Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Higher education is challenged with the changing culture of their institutions as they respond to societal trends and internal and external forces. Because of the continued change in environments, literature suggests that a well-managed institution must employ effective managers at every level in order to accomplish institutional goals and missions. The importance of professional development in higher education has increased because of the perceived link with performance and quality that leads to organizations being effective as they respond to internal and external pressures.

This study surveyed 316 student affairs professionals (new professionals, mid-managers, and senior student affairs officers) within the North Dakota University System to assess perceptions regarding their attainment of various skills in ten competency categories and the methods they use to gain competence. The instrument was an online survey consisting of three sections of questions: demographics; skill areas; and methods of learning.

Competencies were analyzed in ten categories: leadership; student contact; communication; human resources management; fiscal management; professional development; research, evaluation, and assessment; legal issues; technology; and diversity. Significant differences between the administrative levels on their need for skill development were found in eight of the ten categories. The exceptions were in the areas of technology and diversity.

Overall, the competency categories indicating the greatest need for continued development were fiscal management, human resources management, legal issues, and research, evaluation, and assessment. All administrative levels indicated high mastery in technology. Significant differences were found with the variables, number of years in current position and highest academic degree obtained, on perceived need for development. No differences were found by type of institution (two-year or four-year).

Student affairs professionals use a variety of methods to gain competence. The three most preferred professional development activities were workshops, conferences, and discussions with colleagues. No significant differences were found between new professionals, mid-managers, and senior student affairs officers in preferred type of professional development. Significant differences were found in preference of professional development activity by years in current position and by the variable highest academic degree obtained.